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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

04-05-18 | By

Mark Kendall’s Head-Banging Sobriety Provides More Than Music

mark kendall
Image Via Mark Kendall

“I had a lot of fear when I got sober that my creative spark with disappear. The alcohol was the vehicle for me to be able to get my guitar and come up with the big riffs. I used it for everything,” explained Mark Kendall, the founding member and lead guitarist of mega rock-band, “Great White.”

“Great White” gained popularity in the 1980’s and 1990’s and released several albums including their top hit, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” in 1989. Today, approaching 10 million album sales “Great White,” continues to draw a large fan base. However, there’s one thing different from the 70’s. Kendall explained, “A lot of people at shows come up to me and talk to me about their sobriety. I really like that.”

“There Goes Great White!”

Growing up in Huntington Beach, California to a musical family, Kendall continued to divulge about the early days of Great White. “We started way back in the late 70’s and finally got a band together. In 1982 we met an A&R guy (Alan Niven) and he became our manager who later managed Guns and Roses. He got us on the radio with no record deal. It was enough to create some excitement and we’ve been going ever since.”

mark kendall
Image Via @MarkKendall_GW

Niven suggested the name “Great White,” after Mark Kendall stuck his head out of a car window while driving and a kid in the crowd exclaimed, “There goes great white.” Kendall received the nickname due to his naturally white blonde hair, white Fender Telecaster, white jumpsuit, and you guessed it, white shoes.  

Intertwined within the accolades and success that the band acquired, Kendall found himself in the grips of addiction, and the rest of the band members soon caught on. Kendall explained, “I think a trigger for a substance abuse is being on the road and everyone telling you you’re so great and you kind of just don’t want to take it as serious. It can drive you crazy, and it can cause some people to numb themselves.” In 1991 Mark found himself doing just that. Overshadowed with what was to come, he notes, “I could feel the tension all around and felt like my band was going to intervene on me. From morning until night I was drinking.”

A Walking Time Bomb

Eventually, Mark found himself sobering up in a facility in Arizona. “I went to a program but didn’t really fully commit. Had one foot in the door and one foot out type vibe,” he noted. “I just wasn’t buying it. I’d call it ‘white knuckle’ sobriety. I half-assed it so bad  but I was able to stay sober. I’d go two years and then a year, but I was a walking time bomb.” In later years, Kendall recognizes that he removed the alcohol but was still exhibiting the same behaviors from his addiction, “I was still lying for no reason,” he adds, “eventually I was right back in that pain that I began with, and ended up drinking again.”

However, in 2008 Mark Kendall decided that he needed to get honest, and it was that moment which dictated his future. “For some reason it was just like this honesty came over me. I was on the road and I called my wife and told her that I drank. I said I was going to start listening to these guys with long term sobriety and do everything the right way. I’ve been sober ever since.”

Today, Mark has no problem sharing his past struggles, and often takes to social media to help others. He explained, “When I finally got sober and had two years I started reaching out to people social media. I thought, I wonder what would happen if I reached out and offered my sober friendship or support. We’ve got a huge following, so I said if anyone is out there struggling with addiction and alcoholism I’m available to be your sober friend. The results were amazing.”

“The Demons Were Just Screaming At Him”

In addition to his presence on social media, Mark is no stranger to addiction on the road and made himself known when his friend, and lead singer of “Warrant,” Jani Lane, reached out for help. He explains, “Jani was a real good friend of mine I would send him daily meditations and prayers. Jani was real into them. He trusted me to help him and told me straight up he wanted to be sober more than anything. I think there’s more people who have difficulty than others at getting sober, but the demons were just screaming at him. Unfortunately, Jani died of acute alcohol poisoning. You never figure that someone is going to drink until they die, but it happens.”

mark kendall twitter
Image Via @MarkKendall_GW

Even on the road, Mark doesn’t stop short of making his sobriety known. Playfully divulging, he explained, “Younger bands sometimes get envious of the touring and records sold and some of them have come up to me and said, ‘we want to do that.’ You get to their rehearsal and they’ve got a bunch of booze and are drinking heavily, and I’m going ‘what are you guys celebrating?’ You’re supposed to at least be in billboard or have sold a couple of records before you start trying to kill yourselves,”

Donning a recovery symbol on his RH custom guitar, Mark Kendall along with the rest of “Great White” are set to tour through September. “There’s a lot of fans that get sober, and come up to me after the show and tell me how much time they have. If they want to get sober because I play guitar, fine, but then when we talk privately I tell them how it is. I didn’t get sober because of my guitar. That would never work,” Mark chuckled.

Wearing Sobriety On His Sleeve

While recording a recent album in Nashville, Kendall explains the benefits of wearing his sobriety on his sleeve. Mark posted a sober friendship offer on Facebook, and a man named Curt came forward. Kendall met him in person in Music City, go to lunch and attend a couple of meetings. Mark explained, “Curt told me that right before he responded to my post his wife told him she didn’t want to watch him die anymore. That was Curt’s day to get sober. I helped him get into a facility and today he’s not only sober today, but a counselor at the facility. If it was just him it would have been worth it.”

However, through all the music, miles, album sales, and help he’s provided, Mark Kendall understands the importance of staying level-headed. “Getting too comfortable is a hazard for me. I’m a little bit shy, and it was so nerve-wracking with no alcohol. But, today I can talk to anybody. I’m comfortable in my own skin, but I’m not cocky in my own sobriety. I’m just trying to help people, and in turn I help myself. When you start getting the attitude that you’ve ‘got this’ that’s when I’ve fallen off, so I keep my guard up.”

“I’m Comfortable In My Own Skin, But Not Cocky In My Sobriety”

Image Via @MarkKendall_GW

With a crack in his voice, Mark reflects back with much gratitude. “People kept telling me that life gets better, and it really does. It’s amazing how small and dark the world gets when you’re in this pain. I’ve never seen a successful heroin addict or alcoholic living on top of the world. Drugs and alcohol don’t care how rich you are or what you do for a living, it doesn’t care if you’re a chart topper or not. Everyone ends up in the same place and it’s dark and ugly. We’re all in the same pain. We can all lose anything as easy as anyone.”

It’s clear that what Kendall is doing has been working. “Great White’s” Mark Kendall is not only attracting head-banger’s who want to rock, but changing lives. Kendall notes, “I’m just reaching out to people that might be in danger and don’t even know it, or maybe they want to get sober but just tell themselves – ‘I would never go about doing that.’ Maybe they just need to see a post like mine – and say ‘hey I’m going to talk to this guy.’”

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